Federal Budget 2014: The Hunter's share

Pic: Darren Pateman
Pic: Darren Pateman

JOE Hockey’s first budget has bypassed the Hunter.

The one and only new item specifically for the region is the $16million upgrade of Bucketts Way near Gloucester, leaving Newcastle and the rest of the Hunter to hope for a share of new funding for roads and medical research.

When the Newcastle Herald asked about the government’s Hunter infrastructure spending plans, a Treasury spokesman pointed to the recently opened Hunter Expressway as an example of the government’s commitment to the region.

Although Mr Hockey peppered his budget speech with promises of a $20billion medical research fund and described the government’s infrastructure plans as ‘‘the largest on record’’, the fine print of the budget papers revealed program after program being cut or axed.

The Hunter’s federal public servants, especially in the tax office, are likely to feel the pinch, with Mr Hockey announcing the departure of 16,500 public servants over three years. It followed media reports yesterday  that 1000 tax office jobs were to go.

The budget papers were very light when it came to regional breakdowns of even the most basic capital works programs.

Federal member for Paterson Bob Baldwin defended a lack of identified capital works programs, saying that all of the extra money raised through the indexed fuel levy would go to road funding.

He said he  lobbied for the Bucketts Way funding and was pleased that $16million had been allocated over four years.

Mr Baldwin said the Scone bypass ($45million) and the Tourle Street bridge duplication ($40million) funds might have been announced previously but the budget confirmation meant they would go ahead with the state providing matching funds.

The Hunter’s Labor MPs slammed the budget, labelling it full of broken promises and an attack on the region’s sick and elderly.

Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon, Charlton MP Pat Conroy and Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon all said they failed to find a cent destined for the Hunter. ‘‘It’s a budget full of very cruel cuts and unfair increases on the cost of living,’’ Ms Claydon said. 

‘‘The hidden $80 billion cuts to schools and hospitals is a real killer for Newcastle.’’

Mr Conroy said more than 100,000 Hunter residents would be directly affected by the federal government’s attack on pensioners, with a cut to concessions and the eligible age increased to 70.

He also said there had to be a better way to fund medical research than a $7 fee increase for GP visits.

Mr Fitzgibbon accused the government of concocting a budget emergency to justify ‘‘a range of broken promises’’.

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While the government is also promoting extra roads funding for Black Spots and Road to Recovery programs, no detail of individual projects appeared in the budget papers and Treasury officials were unable to provide further detail.

 The changes to welfare, education and training programs are likely to hit heavily in a region like the Hunter, which has a slightly lower than average socio-economic profile, and above-average numbers of people on some form of government assistance.

Big cuts to green energy programs would also have the potential to affect the CSIRO’s Energy Research Centre at Steel River, Mayfield, which has concentrated on a range of renewable energy projects during its years of operation.

Despite a big increase in the defence budget and the impending purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, there was no sign of any specific spending programs for the Williamtown RAAF base.

But with Williamtown confirmed as a home base for a large number of F-35s, continued spending at this crucial defence base appears assured.

While the budget papers make no specific mention of the Hunter Medical Research Institute, the organisation can be expected to receive a boost from the government’s $20billion Medical Research Future Fund, to be partly funded by the $7 Medicare co-contribution.

HMRI  and University of Newcastle researchers should benefit from  new $20bn Medical Research Future Fund

Hunter mobile phone black spots could be eased under national spending of $100m over four years

Williamtown RAAF and Singleton army base likely to benefit from reintroduction of Australian Defence Force gap year program

Hunter defence veterans to benefit from extra $1.4bn over four years in defence pension and death benefit improvements

$3.3m for stormwater treatment improvements in Tuggerah Lakes

University of Newcastle may benefit from national plan to lift doctor training places from 1200 to 1500

Hunter to benefit from share of $200m in extra Black Spot Program funding and extra $350m in Roads to Recovery funding

Hunter to share in new National Stronger Regions Fund, spending $1bn in five years 

New $5bn privatisation fund, Infrastructure Growth Package, Asset Recycling Initiative, could see funds flow to the region if state assets such as Hunter Water were privatised

$16m from 2013 to 2019 on upgrading Bucketts Way at Gloucester

$40m by 2019 for Tourle St bridge duplication

$45m over six years for Scone bypass

Hunter artists, writers and performers may find it harder to get grants with $87m in four years cut from ‘‘uncommitted arts funding’’, including $28m from the Australia Council

Hunter vignerons may suffer from abolition of Grape and Wine Research and Development Selection Committee and Wine Australia Corporation Development Committee 

University of Newcastle students face new student loan repayment rules

University of Newcastle likely to be affected by cuts to research and education funding, including $75m in four years from the Australian Research Council and $174m in four years from higher degree funding

Scoping study into potential privatisation of Defence Housing Australia Ltd

Medicare Locals (including Newcastle Medicare Local) to be replaced with Primary Health Networks from July 2015

CSIRO energy research centre at Steel River  may find it harder with abolition of Renewable Energy Agency and  $112m in cuts to CSIRO funding over four years 

Hunter industry employing apprentices could be impacted by the abolition of 10 training programs, including Accelerated Austalian Apprenticeships Program

National Low Emmissions Coal Initiative to lose $17m over two years, although $97m over four years remains available for coal emission reduction research 

Hunter councils will be affected by four year pause indexing to Local Government Financial Assistance Grants Program, saving $952m in four years